It is not uncommon these days to read about women who have been physically abused by those whom they have trusted. Abuse of this kind produces not just physical but also emotional damage. Without a support system many women find themselves emotionally stuck in these abusive relationships with no chance of escape.
What happens to individuals who have been psychologically abused by a religious group? How can they recover from the damage done? Physically leaving such a group is often not a hard thing to do, but the emotional and psychological departure from the group's manipulative control can take months or even years to overcome. This is why many people who have never experienced the trauma of abuse do not understand how any person can stay within a situation of religious abuse - much the same way that people fail to see how battered women stay with their abusers.
Fear, deception and manipulation
Dysfunctional and destructive groups often use manipulation, fear, and deception to maintain a hold on their members. They also shower recruits with affection and approval for staying in the group and obeying the rules. These kind of groups control and distort information from the outside. Thus it becomes a sin to read any "worldly" publications which are often referred to as "spiritual pornography". The group makes an extremely sharp distinction between right and wrong; everything in the group is positive (godly), everything outside the group is negative (satanic). Doubts and serious questions are not tolerated. The authority of the group's leadership is absolute.
Isolation and loneliness
It is no wonder, that the religiously abused frequently suffer from emotional and psychological problems. We believe that it is high time that our society recognizes and deals with religious abuse as a social-psychological disorder in itself. Generally, a person who breaks involvement with a dysfunctional group will encounter several problems: Depression is often a product of group-induced self-doubt and self-blame. Isolation and loneliness is experienced when leaving one social environment for another. Many ex-members experience a loss of decision-making skills as they leave a controlling environment. There can be difficulty in talking about group involvement which is often related to strong feelings of guilt, fear and bitterness. Recent walk aways are frequently mistrustful and suspicious of other people and groups.
Recovery takes time
So, how does one recover? How does a person heal the wounds of religious abuse? Healing is best accomplished within a caring and understanding new social setting. This can be a family, a support or therapy group, or an organized community such as a mainstream church. A support system outside of the abusive group is vital to allow time for healing. How can you help yourself where you are? Put your experience down in writing. This will help you to evaluate, understand, and cope with your past involvement in the abusive group. Get in touch with other people who have gone through similar experiences, either one-on-one or in a support group. Find a hobby or pastime to reinforce a positive sense of accomplishment. Handle decisions, tasks, and relearning of interpersonal skills one step at a time. Remember that recovery will take time and effort so be patient with yourself.
For more information see the support page.